Committee takes up charter changes, but districts not on list

EVERETT — Everett’s Charter Review Committee is close to wrapping up its business.

The 15-member group is charged with recommending changes to the city’s charter, the document that spells out how the city is run. It was last convened in 2006.

This year the committee is recommending three relatively minor changes, but it is passing on a potentially major shift that has support from the broader community.

That change would have seen some of the seven City Council seats assigned to geographic districts. A proposed measure failed to garner enough support from the committee members for inclusion.

Most public comments that have been submitted during the committee’s tenure supported the districting plan, however.

“A diverse table is not the same thing as a divided table,” said Bayside resident Carol Jensen at a public hearing on last week. “Our city will be stronger when more people have a stake in politics. It would send a strong message to the people of Everett that all voices are wanted and needed in our political system.”

The district proposal only had the support of three committee members, however. The committee’s rules required the support of 10 of the 15 members for a measure to be included in the draft package.

City activist and Lowell neighborhood resident Megan Dunn first proposed the districting plan in October 2015. She was later appointed to the committee as the vice-chairwoman.

The intent is to increase representation on the city’s legislative body. The city council has long been filled mostly if not completely with people who live north of 41st Street.

Currently only Councilman Jeff Moore lives in south Everett.

The committee received a total of 21 comments either in writing or during the public hearing, of which 15 favored districting and only one was in opposition. The others either concerned other issues or were not clearly advocating a position on the issue.

Among the comments was a letter jointly signed by County Councilman Brian Sullivan, state Sen. John McCoy and state Reps. Mike Sells and June Robinson.

“It is time for the City Council to reflect the diversity of the people of Everett, and that is why we hope you will consider and approve committee member Megan Dunn’s amendment to move the city to a district-based voting system,” the politicians wrote.

The lone comment opposed to districting came from resident Bob Mayer, who wrote that districting would take away the right of citizens to vote for candidates of their choice.

“It limits selection and quality of candidates. It leads to fragmentation of our city by encouraging council members to prioritize the desires of their neighborhood over the needs of the city,” Mayer wrote.

The committee is no longer taking public comment. It is scheduled to meet Thursday where committee members will have the opportunity to offer last-minute amendments before approving a final document.

The committee is required to submit its final recommendation to the City Council in time for their June 1 meeting, so it’s possible the committee could meet more than once before then.

The three issues currently on the recommendation list would remove the requirement that the City Council meet weekly, recommend appointments to city boards and commissions reflect the diversity of the city’s population and geography, and would allow the city clerk to make changes to the charter to fix gender references, errors or other outdated language.

The committee report is a recommendation only to the City Council. The council would have to take up and decide whether to place each change to the city charter on the November ballot for voter approval.

This story has been modified to correct the name of Carol Jensen, who was incorrectly identified in the original version.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Meeting on Thursday

Everett’s Charter Review Committee is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19 in the fifth floor Human Resources Training Room in the Wall Street Building, 3020 Wetmore Ave. Public comments will not be taken at this meeting, although some comments are still being accepted online at http://bit.ly/1qmiz2c.

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